NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Editorial: The shape of things to come

By Jenny Wilson — Thirty years ago, in July 1988, the Commonwealth Government introduced a policy paper that was to reshape the Australian Higher Education landscape and introduce concepts and ideas that were to influence university operations over the following three decades.

Creative Arts disciplines were particularly affected by the Government White Paper and changes it introduced, referred to as ‘the Dawkins Reforms’ after John Dawkins, the then Minister responsible for its introduction.

Not only did it catalyse amalgamations between universities and creative arts programs in ‘stand alone’ arts colleges, Colleges of Advanced Education and some in TAFE, it also presaged the introduction of more selectivity in research funding, a greater emphasis on particular fields of study, the adoption of business sector models of institutional governance and an increased focus on institutional ‘income generation’.

In this edition of NiTRO we mark the anniversary of the release of the White Paper with a host of perspectives and recollections:

Melbourne University VC Glyn Davis, Gwilym Croucher from the Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education, and VCA’s Danny Butt provide background understanding of the policy and its more immediate consequences.

Richard Vella (Newcastle) considers the influence and subsequent changes for music while Paul Uhlmann (ECU) reflects on the changes in the visual art school that resulted; and Tracey Bradford considers the reforms from the perspective of the TAFE sector.

Jen Webb (Canberra) reflects upon the subsequent key changes that took place in tertiary creative arts while Scott Brook (RMIT) argues that the Dawkins reforms delivered many successes for creative disciplines that we need to build on.

In his analysis of ARC funding, Ross Woodrow (Griffith) reminds us that 2018 is also the 20-year anniversary of the release of the report into Research in Creative Arts by Dennis Strand (The Strand Report).

In a Q&A interview, Kit Wise uses the opportunity of his move from University of Tasmania to RMIT to consider the changes in tertiary arts education since his arrival in Australia in 2002.

We also include the views and experiences of colleagues in Curtin University, Queensland Conservatorium, Sydney Conservatorium, University of Technology Sydney, and Griffith Film School, Queensland College of Art in a combined piece ‘Dawkins Reforms: How was it for you?’

More from this issue

More from this issue

Going to Art School at the in the early months of 1980 was a shock. My previous life had to become over-ridden in order to embrace the new languages involved in manifesting and understanding art through many forms.

The period up to the mid-1980s was, for the technical and further education (TAFE) sector in Australia, a time of relative stability and consolidation. A national TAFE ethos began to emerge, with state TAFE systems working together to develop national consistency on curricula, statistics and credentials. At a Commonwealth level, education under the ministership of Susan Ryan remained relatively unaffected by economic rationalism. This was to change with the appointment of John Dawkins as Minister for Employment, Education and Training in 1987.

The British Empire mandated the export of a democratic concept of the nation that made laws on the basis of voting or counting and suppressed forms of customary governance that operated across the planet. For the descendants of empire in the settler colony, the mechanism of “nation-building” suppressed our memories of global colonisation that established our economic and social structures.

In July 2018, DDCA Board Member Professor Kit Wise moved from Head of the School of Creative Arts at the University of Tasmania to take up the role of Professor of Art and Associate Dean of Art at RMIT. NiTRO Editor Jenny Wilson spoke to Kit about his move to Australia in 2002, his time at the Tasmanian College of the Arts and on the changes he has observed in Australian tertiary arts education.

The changes brought by Minister John Dawkins refashioned Australian higher education and its institutions. Over the course of a few years, the government ended free education and introduced HECS, turned an elite education system into mass education, made vice-chancellors into CEOs, and turned higher education teachers into both teachers and researchers.

The Dawkins moment began outside the university sector. For while diversity was hard to find among the traditional universities, it could be found in many other post-school education institutions.

Let me begin with a claim some will find problematic: creative disciplines have been wildly successful within the structure of a unified Higher Education sector. As counterintuitive as this sounds, it has to be admitted that the post-Dawkins reforms era has clearly demonstrated their value to the Australian university.

In the late 1990s I wrote about various directions of music institutions post Dawkins reforms … the main changes have been funding clusters, increased student contributions and the sector opening up to include more private providers … 30 years on since Dawkins, the tertiary music environment now involves many stakeholders (old and new), one in which total deregulation seems inevitable.

The very phrase “The Dawkins Reforms” evokes an image of Minister John Dawkins adding the flourishing touches to a paper that was, overnight, to disrupt the settled and contented life in Australia’s art and music schools, and send tertiary creative artists trudging in Lowryesque procession to the university ‘factories and mills’.

The 1998 Strand Report on Research in the Creative Arts was triggered by a decision of the then Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs to shrink the 22 categories in the national data collection, that determined the allocation of research quantum funds to individual universities, to just the “big four” and wiping the short-lived Design and Creative Arts research categories, “H” and “J”, respectively.

By Professor Jen Webb — I arrived in Australia in the midst of the Dawkins Revolution – a revolution that was the product of bureaucratic imperatives rather than community demand, and one that has radically transformed the culture of Australian higher education.